Guess what? Another candidate announced a run for the seat Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant plans to leave open in District 3. This time it’s Efrain Hudnell, a deputy prosecutor in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. If elected, he wants to complete the streetcar, incentivize developers to build a “shit-ton” of market-rate housing, and institute a vacancy tax.
Here’s the catch: As a Seattle University law student, in 2017 Hudnell briefly joined the Federalist Society, a cult of right-wing lawyers that has arguably done more harm to America than any other institution in the last 20 years in its singular mission of packing the courts with maniacs. But he claims he’s changed his ways, as his criminal justice platform attests.
Hudnell hails from Washington D.C, but as a military brat he moved around a bunch. He earned an undergrad degree in political science from New Mexico State University before joining the Army in 2012. He steadily moved up the ranks, ending his service as a Task Force Intelligence Officer in 2017. Then it was off to Seattle University School of Law.
Here’s where it gets weird. During his first year of law school, he joined the school’s chapter of the Federalist Society. He said the group talked him into joining with the promise of a paid trip to DC to meet Justice Clarence Thomas (sounds super fun!), a decision he now calls “dumb.” He said the society seemed “innocuous enough at first,” but after a while he saw the organization’s “true colors.”
“The trip was the breaking point. It was clear that their mantra—‘discuss, debate, decide’—was not reflective of the purpose and values of that organization,” he said. “They exist to recruit young people to further conservative agendas in government. I saw it firsthand, and it remains the most detached, shameless display of privilege that I have ever seen.”
He terminated his membership in the spring of 2018, shortly after the trip.
Now, as a deputy prosecutor for the County, he works in the therapeutic alternatives unit, which he said informs the policies he would propose as a council member.
If elected, he wants to see a stronger reliance on treatment and therapeutic courts at the City level because he believes addressing root causes leads to better outcomes than jail.
These programs exist at both the county and the city level, but as it stands many misdemeanor cases start in the normal courts, and then judges divert them to therapeutic courts. He wants to flip that on its head and order the Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) to start every new misdemeanor case in treatment or in therapeutic courts. Then, if those courts decide the misdemeanor caused enough harm to a victim, such as with an assault with sexual motivation, the court could bump the case to regular court and the offender could go to jail.
That move would add a financial burden to those therapeutic courts. To cover the cost, he would propose a vacancy tax based on Vancouver B.C.’s model, which charges landlords 1% of the assessed value of their empty properties.
His call to dramatically reduce the number of cases that the City Attorney’s Office actually prosecutes sounds an awful lot like the policies that abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy ran on in her 2021 bid for City Attorney. Hudnell, who voted for Thomas-Kennedy, agrees.
“I want to see a world where no one has to be sick and poor because they were born sick and poor. And the criminal justice system is really good at finding those people and punishing them for being sick and poor,” he said.
He continued, “I don’t want to see those people in and out of courtrooms, going from jail in one jurisdiction to the next. If that’s an abolitionist–sure, I’m an abolitionist.”
But, if we’re keeping with the Thomas-Kennedy comparison, when it comes to cops, Hudnell doesn’t want SPD to eat “COVID-laced shit.”
He’s iffy on how many cops the City needs, but he’s clear that hiring more cops will not reduce crime. To reduce crime, he wants to top it upstream by investing in police alternatives and in alleviating poverty. He supports a variety of ways to fund those tactics, including diverting some (definitely not 50%) money from SPD, which he noted is the budget’s largest line item.
Hudnell said he will fight for no less than 200,000 new units of housing in the next 10 years. And he wants to see all kinds of housing: social housing, affordable housing, and a “shit-ton” of market-rate housing.
He said he wants to pay for affordable housing by increasing the city’s “JumpStart” payroll tax, and he would have voted in favor of Council Member Kshama Sawant’s budget action to do so. He also wants to identify new taxes and fix existing ones.
Additionally, he advocates for a land-banking tax, which charges property owners for undeveloped or underdeveloped plots of land in high-density areas. He also wants to “revisit” the “highest and best use” calculation for property taxes to make sure it's performing properly for properties like single-family homes, parking lots, and car dealerships.
As for that “shit-ton” of market-rate housing, Hudnell said he’s going to incentivize developers with tax benefits to convert underutilized commercial housing into residential units. For example, the 18-space parking lot next to Cal Anderson Park? That could be 40 to 50 apartments, he said.
If Seattle runs out of parking lots to build on, Hudnell said he also wants to throw a lid over I-5 and incentivize developers to build there, but to save some green space while they’re at it.
Despite his passion for density, he’s less enthusiastic about doing away with single-family zoning. He said ending single-family zoning all at once would leave it up to the market to decide where new density occurs. “And if we’ve learned anything, it's that the market doesn’t give a shit about Black people," he said.
He wants to “control the burn” to avoid further gentrification and displacement in Black and Brown neighborhoods such as the Central District and the Chinatown-International District, which he says have absorbed “more than their fair share” of density. He said Seattle might be ready to end single-family zoning by 2050.
Another Fucking Urbanist
Hudnell only flirted with the “abolitionist” label, but he wined, dined, and you-know-what-ed the “urbanist” label.
He called himself a “train nerd” and proceeded to talk about his love of transit for two-and-a-half minutes uninterrupted. Not kidding.
If elected, he wants to sit in meetings about the light rail expansion and fill the 1.3 mile gap between the downtown streetcar’s two unconnected lines, a project former Mayor Jenny Durkan paused in 2018.
Fellow D3 candidate and urbanist Alex Hudson also said she will try to keep Sound Transit from fucking up the light rail expansion and prioritize the streetcar connection if she wins the seat. As candidates flock to Sawant’s open seat, Hudnell and Hudson may find themselves competing for the urbanist vote.
Hudnell did not shit-talk his urbanist competition when I baited him, but the two urbanists have already revealed a few differences. Hudson wants the Progressive Revenue Stabilization Work Group to tell her which tax to support, and Hudnell came with opinions of his own. Hudson voted to retain Sawant in the recall in 2021, and Hudnell voted to kick her out. Hudson waffled on Initiative 135 (she eventually voted yes and sent me a picture to prove it), and Hudnell proudly voted yes. Hudson ordered coffee for our interview, and Hudnell initially ordered coffee but abandoned a full cortado for beer when he saw that I got wine–same vibe as quitting the Federalist Society and becoming a progressive.
Eds note: This story was originally published at 8 am, but I bumped it up to the current time for better visibility.